This huge oval-shaped painting, which is about 3 metres long, was commissioned to decorate a ceiling in a palazzo belonging to the Contarini family. The scale of the figures and the sense that they are above us hint at the intended destination: this work was made to be seen from below, and at a great distance.
The imagery suggests it was made to celebrate a new heir. Venus, the goddess of love and fertility, gestures lovingly towards an infant, who is held by a winged figure – a personification of Time, who has here laid aside his scythe. The act symbolises immortality, although the hourglass at his waist suggests the inevitable passing of time. In the clouds above, the Three Graces bless the child by scattering flowers.
Tiepolo’s characteristic loose handling of paint can be seen in Time’s feathery wings, and his delicate colouring in Venus' pale flesh and striking pink drapery, in contrast with Time’s brown skin and brilliant blue loincloth.
This huge oval-shaped painting, which is about 3 metres long, was commissioned to decorate a ceiling in a palazzo belonging to the Contarini family, which also featured four oval monochrome paintings of the virtues. Two doves embrace in the sky above Venus, the goddess of love and fertility, who is draped in sumptuous fabrics with jewels and pearls. Her pale skin glowing, she gestures lovingly towards a child held by a winged figure. In the clouds above, the Three Graces bless the infant by scattering flowers, while below Cupid, Venus‘ son, clutches a sheaf of arrows, a symbol of his matchmaking powers – those hit by his arrows fall in love.
The winged figure is a personification of Time. He has here laid aside his scythe, an act that symbolises immortality, although an hourglass attached to his waist hints at the inevitable passing of time. The young child could represent the Trojan hero Aeneas, who was said to have been made an immortal god at the end of his life (this subject was depicted in another ceiling painting by Tiepolo, which is now in the Royal Palace of Madrid). As a whole, the imagery suggests the celebration of the birth of an heir, and the painting may have been commissioned by the Contarini family for this reason. The child’s facial features are distinctive when compared to the idealised faces of Venus and Time, so he could be based on a particular infant.
The scale of the figures and the sense that they are above us hint at the intended destination: this work was made to be seen from below, and at a great distance. Cupid’s chubby legs dangle towards us, as if he is about to fall from a cloud, and Time’s face is partially concealed as he glances up towards Venus. Tiepolo is best known for his use of soft light and delicate colouring, and here Venus’ pale flesh and striking pink drapery are contrasted with Time’s brown skin and brilliant blue loincloth. The artist tended towards a loose handling of paint to create a sketch-like appearance, which can be seen in Time’s glorious feathery wings.
We think the work was painted between 1753, when Tiepolo returned from Würzburg, and 1758, by which time his son Domenico had produced an etching of the composition in reverse. The painting remained in one of the Contarini palaces until at least 1855. By 1876 it had been installed at Bute House in London, the property of the banker Henry Louis Bischoffsheim, which then became the Egyptian embassy. During the early 1960s the work was removed and restored by the National Gallery before being bought for the collection in 1969.
Download a low-resolution copy of this image for personal use.
License and download a high-resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.
This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.
Examples of non-commercial use are:
The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.
As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.
You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.